Piecing a piece of history together: replica of Sutton Hoo ship takes shape

  • Click here to watch a CGI film of the ship being constructed -made by the Sutton Hoo Ships Company

The first two finished pieces of an 88ft-long replica of the Sutton Hoo longship in Suffolk have been joined together.

Angela Care Evans, who worked on a dig at Sutton Hoo back in the 1960s while working as a research assistant for the British Museum, knocked in the first of three wooden pegs to join the keel to an extension piece.

Archaeologist Angela Care Evans hammers in a treenail to join the first two parts of the keel on the 88ft-long replica. Credit: PA

The full-size reconstruction of the Saxon ship that was excavated in 1939 is being built in a shed beside the River Deben in Woodbridge, Suffolk. It's being made of oak donated by Suffolk farmers and secured with iron rivets.

Dating from the early 7th century, the original Sutton Hoo longship has been described as a 'ghost ship' as its timber had rotted away in the acidic soil, leaving only an imprint in the sand.

A team of volunteers working on the Longship. Credit: PA

The project's master shipwright, Tim Kirk, said: "Through building this, and it is really just a big experimental archaeology programme, we're hoping to learn how the ship actually sailed.

"We can do computer simulations of this, but to actually find out there's only one way to do it and that's to build it and put it in the water and row it and then perhaps sail it."

"In the original excavation none of the timbers survived, so although we've got the rows of nails and we've got an outline in the sand of the plank edges, we actually haven't any information about the interior layout of the ship, where the seats were, how high the floor was, how it was controlled. There's not a ship this big with as many oars where they are the primary propulsion method, so it's one big experiment."

A treenail is hammered in to join the first two parts of the keel on the replica ship. Credit: PA

Craftsmen are using hand tools to build the replica as authentically as possible.

The first two pieces of the ship were joined using three trenails - wooden pegs with a head on one end and a wedge on the other which spreads out, securing the joint.

"Today's the first time we've actually joined two of the finished pieces together and that really is the stage where you can say you're building a ship," Mr Kirk said.

It is hoped the replica will be completed in 2024. Credit: PA

The ship is expected to be completed in three years time, with plans for it to be launched on the water the same year.

Independent charity the Sutton Hoo Ship's Company, which is making the ship, said it plans to train a company of 80 or more rowers.

Volunteers will also test how the ship could be dragged over land, as it was for its final journey to Sutton Hoo.

It is hoped that, following the £1 million project, the longship will become a tourist attraction.

The charity has launched a campaign for people to sponsor the 4,000 iron rivets required to hold the planks of the boat together. To sponsor a rivet, at #20 each, see www.saxonship.org.